(This story had been updated to reflect that Carman-Ainsworth High School Principal Charles LaClear says he did not tell students they would not be able to walk for graduation. LaClear has responded saying he has “never threatened commencement for students being empowered to protect themselves.”)
Flint, MI— Describing Carman-Ainsworth High School as an “unhealthy and contaminated environment,” a letter from concerned students is asking the administration to shut down for two weeks and deep clean the building after a COVID outbreak at the high school.
“I’m anxious trying to learn. I’m trying to focus on my studies, but I don’t know if the person next to me is sick or not,” Kameron Motley, a senior who wrote the letter, said.
LaMar Calvert II, another senior who drafted the letter, agreed.
“We’re around hundreds of kids, seven hours a day, five days a week. I don’t think (the administration) understands that. I don’t think they understand that that’s where our anxiety is coming from,” Calvert said.
The State of Michigan defines a school-related COVID outbreak as three or more cases “within a specified core group.” According to Carman-Ainsworth’s COVID-19 Dashboard there were three positive cases confirmed at the high school on Oct. 28, two staff members and one student.
Calvert and Motley claimed more than 300 students have been quarantined due to having close contact with those who tested positive, around 26% of the high school’s student population.
“I noticed the halls getting emptier and emptier,” Motley said. “It honestly makes me wonder why I’m there. I almost feel stupid going to school and everybody’s gone.”
Apart from four school days, the district has had at least once case per day between its seven schools since Oct.16. Calvert and Motley said they attribute this to relaxed preventative measures.
“Why aren’t the precautionary measures such as wiping down desks before each hour, less kids in school each day, and deep cleaning from last year being enforced in a time where it is needed? Not just me, but my fellow students feel that the procedures being followed by the CAHS administration has become very lax since the 2021-2022 school year has started,” the letter reads.
Calvert and Motley said the district has never installed temperature check stations at the high school which they feel are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID.
“The fact that we don’t have one here is really unsettling,” Calvert said, adding that there were temperature stations at his former school, Hamady High School.
In conversations with Superintendent Cathy McGilvery, the two seniors said they were told the district is “not required” to wipe down surfaces or have temperature check stations. They also said McGlivery told them the cases were associated with Homecoming events rather than the building.
“There’s a lot of things that need to be in place for our safety and I feel like they try to use the ‘it’s not required’ thing to do the bare minimum,” Calvert said.
McGlivery did not respond to requests for comment by press time, but according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, applicable surfaces and rooms are disinfected “following notification of a probable or positive case.”
Calvert and Motley aren’t the only students who feel the district isn’t doing enough to keep them safe. Over 60 students signed a petition calling for action. Some shared their experiences in the letter to administration.
“Friday, the 29th I was exposed to someone who had COVID. I don’t think I would have been exposed if the school did more drastic measures such as deep cleans,” senior Davonte Williams wrote. “I’m not worried about me. I feel good. My eyes are a little watery but nothing extreme, but I know a friend that is extreme…. I think there needs to be a re-examination of policies and procedures when dealing with COVID.”
The letter contains three proposals: that the district shut down for two weeks to clean and continue cleaning regularly when students return, to give students the option of hybrid learning, and to require temperature checks upon entry into the school.
Motley planned a peaceful walkout for Friday, Nov. 5, but said staff said commencement may be canceled for them if they followed through with it.
“I’m trying to stand for something. I don’t really appreciate that at all,” Motley said.
Motley and Calvert said McGlivery gave them “her blessing,” but with commencement on the line both said they feel conflicted and are not sure how to proceed.
“I feel like he thinks that we’re trying to do this with malicious intent. That’s definitely not how we move. We want to have a bold statement to get our message across. Because we feel like people don’t listen to young voices as much as they should unless we take a stand for something,” Calvert said.
Both said they hope to see change as a result of the letter and their conversation with the superintendent.
“I want to see the same precautionary measures from last year being adopted into this year,” Motley said. “I understand that we all need our education. But honestly, for me, I feel like health is way more important. I’d rather be healthy.”